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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   293
"There's no room, there's no room! Can't you see we're
overcrowded? Where are we going to stick you, on the
Petrov felt so embarrassed that he was ready to
retreat, but Meresyev was already picking his way to the
table, trying to avoid stepping on the sleepers.
"We only want a corner where we can eat our supper,
Grandma. We haven't eaten all day," he said. "Could
you get us a plate and a couple of cups? We won't in-
convenience you by sleeping here. It's a warm night, and
we can sleep in the garden."
From the depths of the stove-ledge, from behind the
back of the irate old woman, two small bare feet ap-
peared; a slim figure silently slipped away from the stove
and, balancing skilfully between the sleepers, vanished
behind the passage door and soon returned, carrying some
plates. Two coloured cups were hooked on to her slender
fingers. At first Petrov thought it was a child, but when
she got to the table and the dim yellow light picked her
face out of the gloom, he saw that she was a young woman,
and a pretty one too; only her beauty was marred by her
brown blouse and sack-cloth skirt, and by the tattered
shawl she wore crossed on her chest and tied at the back
like an old woman's.
"Marina! Marina! Come here, you slut!" hissed the old
woman on the stove.
But the young woman made no sign that she had heard.
Deftly, she spread a newspaper on the table and placed the
plates, cups and forks upon it, casting sidelong glances at
Petrov the while.
"Well, eat your supper. I hope you enjoy it," she said.
"Perhaps you want to cut up or heat something? I could
do that in a sec. Only the quartermaster said we were not
to light a fire outside."
"Marina, come here!" the old woman called.
"Don't pay any attention to her, she's a bit touched. ITie
Germans have scared her to death," said the young w-
man. "As soon as she sees soldiers at night, sfae gets wor-
ried about me. Don't be angry with her, she's like that only
at night. She's all right in the day-time."
In his knapsack Meresyev found some sausage, a tin of
meat, even two dry herrings with the salt glistening on